Tag Archives: Medal of Freedom

Jew of the Week: Moe Berg

Baseball Player, Lawyer… and Secret Agent 

Moe Berg

Moe Berg

Morris Berg (1902-1972) was born in New York to Russian-Jewish immigrants. He began playing baseball at age 7, and by 16 was on Newark’s baseball “dream team”. He studied first at New York University, then Princeton, and graduated with a degree in languages, learning to speak seven of them. By his senior year, he was captain of Princeton’s baseball team. A day after his last game with Princeton, Berg signed a contract with the Brooklyn Robins. In the off-season, he headed to Paris and continued his studies at the world-famous Sorbonne (University of Paris). There, he began a personal routine of reading as many as 10 newspapers every single day. Berg was never very good at baseball, and was often traded and loaned between many different teams. Always a scholar first, in 1926 he told the Chicago White Sox that he is skipping spring training because he was enrolled in law school at Columbia University. He earned his law degree in 1930, and then split his time between baseball in the summer and working at a prestigious Wall Street law firm in the winter.

In 1932, Berg toured Asia, visiting Japan, China, Siam, India, and Egypt. A couple of years later, he returned to Japan with a video camera, later traveling to the Philippines, Korea, and Russia, before returning to play with the Red Sox for 5 seasons, then coaching the team for 2 more. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Berg joined the war effort and eventually became a spy. He shared his video footage of Japan, which was instrumental in planning American raids during the war. After serving in South America and the Caribbean, Berg was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist resistance groups fighting the Nazis. His next mission was to travel across Europe and convince scientists working for the Nazis (particularly on their nuclear bomb project), to come work for the U.S. instead. In 1951, he requested that the CIA station him in Israel. Instead, they sent him to Europe to spy on Soviet nuclear work. In 1954, the CIA let him go and for the rest of his life Berg lived with his siblings, having never married. His wishes were to be cremated, and his ashes were scattered in Jerusalem. Berg was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and Baseball’s Shrine of the Eternals. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, and his baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters. Berg was described as “the most scholarly professional athlete”, and the “strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Words of the Week

If you begin a good deed, finish it, for a mitzvah is credited to the one who concludes the task.
– Talmud, Sotah 13b

Jew of the Week: Edward Teller

Father of the Hydrogen Bomb

Edward Teller

Edward Teller

Edward Teller (1908-2003) was burn in Budapest to a Hungarian-Jewish father and German-Jewish mother. He did not speak until age three, and was thought to be mentally retarded. However, he soon showed his true genius, and went on to get a degree in chemistry, followed by a Ph.D in quantum physics. Fleeing the Nazis, Teller made his way to England, then Denmark, and finally the United States, along the way working with some of the greatest scientists of the time, including Heisenberg, Fermi, and Bohr. With World War II in full swing, Teller wanted to contribute to the war effort. Together with Hans Bethe, he developed a shock-wave theory that was instrumental for missile technology. In 1942, he was invited to join the Manhattan Project, and contributed greatly to the development of the first atom bomb, despite the fact that he already came up with a stronger “fusion” bomb, and insisted on developing the latter instead. In July of 1945, Teller was among the few who witnessed history’s first atomic blast. After the Soviets tested their first nuke, President Truman pushed for the development of Teller’s more powerful fusion bomb (aka the hydrogen bomb). By 1952, Teller was already known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb”. At the same time, Teller worked to develop nuclear safety standards, and researched meltdown-proof reactors. He would go on to serve as head of some of the finest laboratories in America, and founded the Department of Applied Sciences at UC Davis. Perhaps most significantly, Teller was instrumental in helping Israel develop its nuclear technology, visiting the nascent state 6 times in the span of 4 years, advising both military chiefs and prime ministers. He convinced the Israeli government not to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and was the one who later informed the CIA that Israel was in possession of nuclear weapons. Teller continued his research until his last days; his final paper (on thorium reactors) was published posthumously. His work led to breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, nuclear, and military technology. He passed away with a list of awards appended to his name, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Purim Begins This Saturday Night!

Words of the Week

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
– Theodore Roosevelt

Jew of the Week: Elie Wiesel

Messenger to Mankind

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

Eliezer Wiesel (b. 1928) was born in Romania in a home that regularly spoke Hungarian, German, Romanian, and Yiddish. During the Holocaust he suffered in multiple labour and concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and lost both parents and a younger sister. After the war, he resettled in Paris, studied at the Sarbonne, and worked as a journalist. In 1949, Wiesel became the Paris correspondent (later the international correspondent) for Yediot Ahronot. Though originally not wanting to write at all about the horrors of the Holocaust, he was convinced by a friend and published Night in 1958 – a shortened French version of his 900-page memoir in Yiddish. Though it took a while to hit the mainstream, the book now sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year and has been translated into 30 languages. Wiesel has subsequently authored many more publications, and has become an internationally-renowned speaker. In 1986, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts against racism, violence, and genocide, and was called a “messenger to mankind”. He has also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and was knighted, among many other awards. He has even been nominated as President of Israel, but did not wish to take up the post. Wiesel has taught at Boston and Columbia Universities, the City University of New York, and served as a visiting scholar at Yale. He has spent a great deal of his life as a political activist for international causes. He stood strongly against apartheid South Africa and raised support for intervention during the Bosnian genocide, and more recently in Darfur. He has assisted the plight of Kurds, Native Americans, Argentinian Desaparecidos, as well as Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry. Wiesel remains a vocal supporter of Israel, and Jerusalem as its undivided capital. For the past 58 years, he has lived in the US and to this day has authored 57 books.

UPDATE: Sadly, Elie Wiesel passed away on July 2, 2016.

Words of the Week

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Koran.
– Elie Wiesel